Work of Art

Originally published in Stylist.co.uk on 27th May, 2015 .

Work of Art

“Portraits have always been a way for people of status to construct their ‘public face’ and promote their identity (an idea familiar to Kim Kardashian West) but they’ve also shaped the way society thinks about beauty. When Leonardo da Vinci painted aristocrat Lisa del Giocondo – the woman many believe inspired Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile – in the early 1500s, he ensured all the Renaissance ideals of beauty were covered. The alabaster skin, the high hairline, symmetrical features and the intensity behind the eyes all helped to give the woman behind the painting iconic status, but also helped shape what ‘beauty’ actually meant.

Some of these calling cards are there with Kim. Like the Mona Lisa, she says very little beyond the superficial so everything she does communicate is through image. Hers is an ideal of beauty that has emerged from our need to make sure everything we do is primed for social media. It’s telling that someone who averages five posts on social media a day has become society’s modern beauty ideal.”, an image which, has been artificially manufactured. Her body has been distorted with waist-training corsets and features enhanced with makeup contouring, even before ubiquitous airbrushing. Hers is an ideal of beauty that has emerged from our modern appetite for pornography and sex (no surprise considering how she rose to infamy) and our need to make sure that everything we do is ‘photo ready’ and primed for social media. It’s telling that someone who averaged five posts on social media a day has become our society’s modern beauty ideal.

That’s not to say that this ‘beauty’ was particularly easy to pin down, especially as Renaissance painters like Botticelli picked the ‘best bits’ from women to create a composite ideal in their portraits. Prior to airbrushing and Instagram filters, artists would enhance a woman’s finest’ parts and subtly leave out her imperfections. The goddess Venus, with her wide hips, lustrous blonde hair, willowy limbs, rock hard abs and high breasts is an obvious beauty, but she’s also about as unachievable an image of beauty as it’s possible to get.”






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